Roman family lived with a dachshund-like dog 1,800 years ago in England

NEWS AND VIEWS: If you thought that small dogs were a modern concept you will have to think again after archaeologists working near one of South Oxfordshire’s most iconic landmarks, the Whittenham Clumps, unearthed the bones of a small dog which they have decided would have looked like today’s dachshund as you can see in the reconstruction drawing below. It seems that the Romans had similar ideas about what makes a dog attractive to today’s dog owners.

Illustration of tiny Roman dog based on the remains found at the site in south Oxfordshire.
Illustration of tiny Roman dog based on the remains found at the site in south Oxfordshire. Image: The Telegraph.

The remains were dug up by archaeologists from DigVentures, an archaeology social enterprise as described by The Telegraph newspaper online. They suggest that this was a pet dachshund-like dog living in a villa with quite a wealthy Roman family around 1,800 years ago in southern England.

They also decided that:

“The presence of small dogs in Britain first appears with the arrival of the Romans. Until then, archaeologists typically only find medium-large sized dogs, which are generally thought to have been kept by Iron Age peoples for practical purposes like hunting, herding, fur, or sometimes sacrificed.”

No doubt the dog was a much-loved pet and I can visualise a family much like today’s families enjoying the company of a charming small dog. Today, the dachshund in the UK is one of the most popular dog breeds. And it’s amazing to think that it is plausible to believe that getting on for 2000 years ago the dachshund appearance was equally popular.

They believe that the Roman villa was occupied for around 150 years between the third and fourth centuries A.D. They aren’t sure whether the pet dog was buried with their owner because the burial site had been disturbed. Remains of other dogs, much larger, were found at the site from the same era and they were believed to be working dogs.

The larger working dogs were typical but, on this occasion, they found remains of a dog that must have been a companion to entertain and keep their owner company. Although, it is not been suggested, this sausage dog might have been a working dog too because that’s how the breed involved in modern times.

The dachshund was bred in Germany hundreds of years ago to hunt badgers and to crawl into badger sets. I am not suggestion that the Romans were breeding dogs to hunt badgers in England but it is possible as the Romans did breed dogs. And they loved small dogs too. They called them catuli and catellae.

This site provides a snapshot of domestic life in Roman Britain. It’s like peering into someone’s home. The villa would have been occupied by a relatively wealthy Roman family, who ran a farm with an assortment of working animals as well as this tiny canine

Maiya Pina-Dacier, an archaeologist with DigVentures
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